Thank you to everyone who has reacted to Who is a Local? My intention — I don’t think anyone else ever has addressed this topic publicly — was to provoke a thoughtful dialogue on the issue of “localism” and how it affects the lives of our neighbours and the development of the Madawaska Valley. I hope I succeeded.
I was saddened, but not surprised, to read that school friends and people who have been here for 50 years have felt, and sometimes continue to feel, like they are outsiders. I hope this helps to heal those hurts. I was gratified to hear that this conversation takes place around kitchen tables and in hunt camps. Things are changing. I was also moved by the gratitude that people expressed for the kindness, care and assistance they received in the community of which they chose to be a part. We have amazing goodness and wisdom here, and it confirms my belief that “localists” are a minority. Finally, I was excited to read comments that saw this discussion as one that might be expanded to include building a welcoming place for families, tourists, businesses and manufacturing. We have to embrace the future if we are to keep our beloved home strong and vibrant.
So, whether we are descended from a heritage family and were born and bred here; migrated here in the 60s and 70s to escape the US draft or urbanization; came here to work as a professional; arrived as a Catholic prepper in anticipation of Y2K; settled here for a peaceful life surrounded by beauty; fell in love with a “local;” or retired to the family cottage; we all love the Madawaska Valley and we are proud to call it home.
My dear friend Dawn, who divides her time between Ottawa and her heritage home in Newfoundland and who has visited me in the Madawaska Valley countless times, thought that the localism piece could go in any newspaper across Canada or North America.
Remove Madawaska Valley, she wrote, and insert the name of most any small community … and the message stands.
I realized that we are not that unique when my research for these articles yielded some sources like David M. Rayside’s A Small Town in Modern Times: Alexandria, Ontario (1991) or Outsiders in Appalachia, an episode from The Front Porch from West Virginia Public Broadcasting
These sources deal with low self-esteem. This was alluded to, but not developed, in my last column (see Roy MacGregor’s quotation from Joshua Blank’s book). Let’s consider it now: perhaps we feel the need to look down on newcomers before they look down on us because we are trying to buoy our self-esteem.
Have we been made to feel inferior? Perhaps our accents have been ridiculed, our lack of post-secondary education has been disdained or our hard work in logging or agriculture has been dismissed. Perhaps we were exploited by the cultural elite. One has to wonder how many pieces of Wilno furniture disappeared in the early 70s when collectors converged on the Valley and ripped off naïve residents. Remember the hurt when Kashub folk tales were appropriated and Wilno became known for its vampires? How many farmers were talked into selling their farms cheap for cottages or summer camps for city-folks? Perhaps some of our former mayors or councillors have been ridiculed for “talking like a local.”
An inferiority complex could explain why, instead of appreciating an award-winning and acclaimed art installation based on the importance of the woodpile to life in the Valley, we become angry and ridicule it. Or why we distort a vernissage into a “private invitation-only club, to view art and sip wine.” The sad reality is that if we don’t get over these feelings of inferiority, our words and actions will perpetuate the image of “hicks from the sticks.”
It’s time to put the hurt behind us and recognize the great things we have going for us here in the Madawaska Valley — our ethnic diversity, our cultural wealth, our unique history, our magnificent natural environment, our appeal to families and our potential for development.
Look at the success of the Wilno Heritage Society’s Polish Kashub Heritage Museum, their Kashub Day celebrations and the spinoffs: books that have been published on local history and genealogy, language, embroidery and cooking classes which are preserving the Valley’s Kashub/Polish culture and making us an international centre. We have a thriving arts community of painters, glassblowers, textile artists, iconographers, weavers, potters and writers who are putting us on the map. We have a unique and interesting past and significant sites like the Mayflower Route, Crooked Slide Park, the Railway Station and Water Tower, Zurakowski Park, the Opeongo Line, Heritage Walks, and Canada’s First Kashub/Polish Settlement which draw people to the area. We are surrounded by beautiful hills, clean lakes and forests. Companies like Madawaska Kanu Camp and Paddler Co-op are internationally known and draw people here. The Madawaska Valley offers a wonderful environment for families: reasonable house prices, large yards or acreages, fresh air, organized sports, schools and a fine hospital. Economically, we have a tradition of hard work and a workforce that is ready and willing — workers who would like to stay here if they could. Our proximity to important cities means we could be a great location for establishing e-businesses or attracting e-commuters.
We have absolutely no reason to feel inferior. It is imperative, however, that we overcome our differences and celebrate those things which are integral to the Madawaska Valley. It is possible to make changes and achieve the kind of growth we need without losing our heart and soul.
Change is difficult, especially in a polarized political culture where elected officials try to divide “us” from “them” and fail to listen to the legitimate concerns of citizens. Nevertheless, change is inevitable. Abraham Lincoln said,
The best way to predict the future is to create it yourself.
The future looks amazing.
About the author: Descended from railroaders and hotel keepers, Mark Woermke has deep roots in the Madawaska Valley. A high school teacher in Ottawa, Mark spends as much time as he can in the Madawaska Valley gardening, writing and enjoying its cultural wealth and natural beauty. Mark also blogs at https://prussianhillsblog.wordpress.com and manages the group Renfrew County Germans on Facebook.